Relief Activities for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami : Report on the summer camp held for recent graduates of Yuriage Junior High School

Feb 14, 2012 23:15
Last summer, NICCO organized a Summer Camp at Asahi Shizenkan campground in Asahi-cho, Yamagata prefecture for the 2010 graduates of Yuriage Junior High School in Natori-city, Miyagi prefecture, an area hard hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. 

The camp gave the students an opportunity to reunite with their separated classmates since the disaster. It provided them with a place to talk about their daily struggles and stress, and to support one another while enjoying nature.  

NICCO has been conducting a psychosocial care program for elementary and junior high school students in Natori-city in conjunction with the NPO Frontline lead by Doctor Norihiko Kuwayama which has had experience conducting such programs in developing countries. This summer event was held as a part of that care program.

The Background of the Event
A day of happiness and hope suddenly becomes one of loss and separation

The 2010 graduates of Yuriage Junior High School had grown up together for 9 years since elementary school, and in some cases, since kindergarten. On the day of the quake, their graduation ceremony was to be held. The thank-you party was finished, and they had started to leave.

Just then, the earthquake hit and the tsunami rushed toward them. They lost three of their classmates, family members, homes and much of their hometown on a day that was supposed to be one filled with happy memories and the promise of new beginnings.

Since that day, they had endured life as evacuees in severe cold, and their new lives in various high schools had begun. It must have been a fearful and tense time for freshmen, having to make friends with completely unknown classmates.

In addition, they were mixed in with students who were not directly affected by the disaster. They had spent time at their respective high schools, suffering from psychological strain that was intensified by not having the chance to share their experiences, and hesitations in communications only because they were victims.

What Happened at the Camp
"To my mother in the sky, thank you for everything."

Fifteen of the 45 surviving graduates and two teachers from Yuriage Junior High School joined the 3-day camp. The graduates reunited with their classmates and teachers for the first time in 5 months, and their pre-quake bonds quickly returned.

After enjoying their reunion, graduates challenged themselves through team building exercises, mental work, and various other programs and workshops in Asahi Shizenkan campground. An anger management program on the second day addressed repressed feelings by inviting participants to throw a clay ball at the bulls-eye on a target on an iron plate as they expressed pent-up emotions. There were three colors to choose from. Anger and regret (red ball) were the most commonly expressed feelings. Others included sadness and stress (yellow ball) and gratitude (green ball). Some people expressed such anger messages as "What is the Minister of Restoration thinking?!" and "I hate those who use the word 'die' so easily!"

One boy slowly stood and said calmly, "My mother in the sky... thank you for everything." He had been swallowed up by the tsunami waves and nearly drowned but was saved. He had lost his little sister and mother. At that moment, everyone in attendance, upon hearing his words of gratitude for his dead mother, was moved to tears.

The Purpose of the Event
Reaffirmation of "empathy" and "bonds" and the strengthening of their hearts as they embark on their new life.

This summer camp was valuable because the graduates who had suffered significantly since the disaster,  experiencing big losses and sudden changes in their lives, had the chance to see each other for the first time in five months. The happiness that this reunion sparked was clearly expressed in their smiles and conversations. For the three days of the camp, they naturally renewed and deepened their relationships with each other.

The theme of the programs and workshops in the camp was "fellowship." There was a focus on respecting individual feelings and desires in group work. Speaking of their feelings about themselves, others, and the disaster and sharing them were activities that truly touched the hearts of participants. These approaches of psychosocial care were carefully chosen with the needs of this group in mind, which made them all the more effective.

The true value of this camp was the reaffirmation of things that we can't see such as "empathy" which participants setting out on a new high school life cultivated along with "compathy" which goes beyond that, and the "bonding" which they engaged in. NICCO hopes that the experiences they had here will provide each of them with meaningful, long-term emotional support.


You can make a donation from NICCO's website for Relief Activities for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

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